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Yet another couple months have passed (or weeks, depending on how you count), and Mozilla has released the next version of its flagship product, Firefox 6. At this point you may already be wondering if you’re just dreaming or if it’s actually happening, as Firefox 5 “was only released yesterday” according to your memory.
However, there’s no need to go see a shrink because it is indeed true, thanks to Mozilla’s new release schedule that tries to replicate that of Google Chrome (which, by the way, already has version 15 in the dev channel at the time of this article). Even though Firefox’s release schedule has been cranked up, that doesn’t mean there are virtually no changes with each new release.
Here we’ll find out what did change and why you should update.
In case you’ve already updated to Firefox 6 (like myself), then you’ll notice that visually there are just about no changes whatsoever. This is true for the most part, but there are two exceptions.
First, you may notice that the domain in the address bar remains a solid black color, while the remaining parts of the URL are now a shade of gray, until you start to type into the address bar when the entire URL becomes a solid black. Additionally, if you visit a HTTPS page, the green and blue indicators between the forward/back buttons and the address bar have gotten a slight makeover to look more appealing (the release notes call it a “streamlined look of the site identity block”).
The graying-out of most of the URL can be considered a security feature, making it easier to spot the domain to verify that you’re using the correct site. This can be important when it comes to online banking and phishing sites, although Firefox’s list of phishing and malware pages is quite good. You can see the grayed-out parts in the screenshot (the beautiful theme I’m using in the screenshot is not included, sorry!).
Under the Hood Changes
Other than the very minor graphical changes, most of the new features in Firefox 6 are actually behind-the-scenes, expanding the capabilities of the browser so that developers can create better websites with the latest technologies. For those that can make some sense out of some terms, Firefox 6 includes the latest draft version of WebSockets (a communication technology), support for window.MatchMedia(), and other developer items.
Firefox 6 also comes with improved detection of Firefox Sync, quicker startup times with Panorama (the tab group management tool), and some security and stability fixes.
Showing Some Linux Love
Linux users can also find some joy out of Firefox 6 as Mozilla is finally starting to whitelist a couple graphics drivers for Firefox’s hardware acceleration feature. While this list is currently small, it’s supposed to at least support the proprietary nVidia and AMD drivers. Their open source counterparts may eventually see itself on the whitelist in future versions of Firefox.
The Bright Future
Speaking of the future, while Firefox 6 may not be a release that every end user can really get excited about, future Firefox releases look very promising. As of late, the developers at Mozilla have started a project known as MemShrink. It’s goal is what you should expect from the name: improving Firefox’s memory usage.
MemShrink is currently one of the more major focuses of Firefox development at this time, and they’ve already done a lot of progress. While testing Aurora 7.0a2 and Nightly, I can personally say that Firefox has gotten a major speed boost from the MemShrink work. Also Firefox seems to be much better at preventing itself from leaking memory, as any idle tabs will eventually start using a bit less memory, rather than more.
Lately there have also been 64-bit builds of Nightly, so Firefox is also starting work in that area. When a 64-bit version of Firefox gets released as stable is still uncertain, and no deadline is set. This could possibly be a good thing as my own testing has shown that it freezes quite often to the point where I’d rather switch back to the Aurora channel.
What do you think of Firefox’s development and direction? Do you like it or not? If you could say anything helpful to the developers at Mozilla, what would it be? Let us know in the comments!